PORTAGE PARK —For more than five years, the Filament Theatre Ensemble has traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood, putting on folk art shows in borrowed theaters and shared spaces.
But soon, the folk art theater group, founded by five Northwestern University graduates, will stage its first production in its new home at Six Corners in Portage Park.
“It’s a natural fit,” said Julie Ritchey, the ensemble’s artistic director. “We’re so excited to be part of the revitalization of Six Corners.”
The formerly itinerant ensemble will share the building at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave. with the recently opened National Veterans Art Museum, across the street from the Portage Theater.
The group just finished the plans for the first-floor space, which will include a 1,500-square-foot theater as well as a smaller studio and classroom. The lobby will include a café, which Ritchey hopes will evolve into “a neighborhood hangout.”
“We really want this to be a fully operational arts venue,” Ritchey said.
The group’s first show in its new home will be a homage to Portage Park. The Six Corners Heritage Show will be crafted from interviews with Portage Park residents and research about the neighborhood’s past. It will be performed Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, Ritchey said.
“The last nail probably won’t be nailed by then,” Ritchey said. “But we want to tell the stories of the people and the history of the neighborhood.”
Built in the 1920s, the ensemble’s new home is being rehabbed for the theater and museum in part with $250,000 from the area’s Tax Increment Financing District’s small business improvement fund.
Alderman John Arena (45th) has been working to turn the shopping district at Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero Avenue and Irving Park Boulevard, which has struggled for decades, into an arts and entertainment district.
Cyd Smillie, the arts liaison for ArtsAlive45, a non-profit initiative, said all of the pieces are finally falling into place at Six Corners, noting that two restaurants are planning to open near the theater.
“[Filament Theatre Ensemble] will bring a burst of creativity and young talent to the area,” Smillie said. “It really is the cornerstone that we needed to develop a business community and arts corridor.”
It will cost $150,000 to complete the theater, some of which might be covered by the inital TIF grant, Ritchey said. The group is planning to apply for another grant from the area’s TIF district, with donations and ticket sales covering the rest.
The ensemble is holding a holiday party Dec. 8 that will double as a fundraiser. It will feature the movies “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” With the sound turned off, members of the ensemble will perform the characters’ voices and a jazz trio will play the soundtrack, Ritchey said.
Tickets are $30, and include food, drinks and a raffle ticket.